On the Pirates: Trade of Andrew McCutchen becomes less likely
December 8, 2016 12:00 AM
Andrew McCutchen waits on deck during a Sept. 29 game against the Cubs,
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
OXON HILL, Md. — The trade market for Andrew McCutchen appeared to crash Wednesday night when the Washington Nationals traded promising pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to the restocking Chicago White Sox for center fielder Adam Eaton.
The Nationals seemed a good fit for McCutchen, and Washington had discussed adding him. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo on Tuesday acknowledged his club’s interest, and manager Dusty Baker said he believed McCutchen simply had a “down year” in 2016.
Acquiring Eaton was costly. Giolito is the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com, Lopez is No. 3 and Dunning No. 6. Had the Pirates been offered the same package, despite the fact it didn’t include 19-year-old outfielder Victor Robles, they likely would have accepted it.
Eaton might not have McCutchen’s ceiling, but from the Nationals’ perspective he has more value. Eaton, 28, is two years younger than McCutchen and is under contract for five seasons. McCutchen has an .869 career OPS, compared to Eaton’s .771, but is a free agent in two years.
“We see the arrow still going up with [Eaton],” Rizzo said.
There might be other suitors. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were said to have inquired about McCutchen, and there is speculation of a “mystery team.” In all likelihood, though, general manager Neal Huntington and the Pirates front office will pack their 12th-floor suite at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center this morning and leave baseball’s winter meetings with their roster unchanged since their arrival Sunday. No trades. No signings.
McCutchen’s most likely destination now is Pittsburgh. Publicly, the Pirates have not budged from that position this offseason. Huntington made it clear from the outset of the offseason the Pirates would listen to offers on McCutchen and other players in the final few years under contract, but there was no directive to move McCutchen. If he was to be traded it would be because the Pirates received an offer they felt they could not refuse. So far, the offer still has not come.
Behind closed doors, sources said, the Pirates actively sought trade partners for McCutchen this winter, not sitting idly and waiting for the phone to ring. Nothing prohibits the Pirates from doing so — it would seem to be smart business — though it might muddy relations with McCutchen. The way the industry functions, however, trade talks become hot-stove chatter in an instant and the national narrative over the past week was that a McCutchen trade was inevitable.
“There’s a lot of the narrative we don’t focus on because we can’t control it,” Huntington said Wednesday. “I would imagine it’s frustrating for Andrew to have read as if it’s a matter of when, and not if [he’ll be traded]. I guess I’ve probably led to that, because we’ve talked about how he has two years left under contract.
“There is an end point for every player. There was an end point for Derek Jeter, it just happened that he chose to stay in New York. More often than not the end point comes well before the player retires in our game, in this day and age. Even in our game right now, there’s just a handful of guys that are elite players that are playing or will play the entirety of their career in one spot.”
Agent Scott Boras, who does not represent McCutchen, was asked Wednesday what it says about the state of the industry that the Pirates must consider moving their face-of-the-franchise player. Nobody is at fault, Boras said, and clubs need to determine how they can win long-term.
Boras added: “When you see a player like that and a person like that and what he’s done for the Pirates, putting them in the playoffs and things, you kind of like to see those players stay at home.”
When manager Clint Hurdle called McCutchen recently, phoning Pirates players just to touch base, he sensed the center fielder was in “a good place.”
“I think it’s another part of his career that he’s getting to work through, walk through,” Hurdle said, “and he’s got a great support system. That’s one of the things that I shared with him — is there anything I can do to help lessen the distraction, to be there, talk, whatever?
“I think there will be a day where he will be glad that there’s closure.”
In an annual exit interview in September, Hurdle discussed with McCutchen the possibility of moving to a corner outfield spot, which might limit wear and leave McCutchen less exposed defensively. Hurdle said they planned to reconvene over the winter and decide on a plan of attack.
“He actually shared his thoughts on the timing of it,” Hurdle said, “and when it would be probably good for the [other] players to know … if that’s something we decided to do to go about it.”
For now, it appears McCutchen will be with the Pirates in Boston on opening day. The next debate is whether he is in left field, center or right. That decision seems an easier one to make.
“We believe [McCutchen] is a great player,” Huntington said. “He’s been an amazing player, an amazing person with us. However long he’s a Pirate, we’re going to appreciate that. If it’s for two more years. If it’s for longer than that. If it’s for shorter than that.
“He’s been a special player for this organization. He’s a special man. It sounds like a lot of people are writing him off, and we’re still pretty excited to have him in a Pirate uniform.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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